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Smartphones are 'very addictive', rob students of ability to concentrate, says study

Studies across the world show that students constantly use their phones when they are in class

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  • No watches, no smartphones, no iPads: Bill Gates and his family (L to R) daughter Jennifer, wife Melinda, daugImage Credit: Pinterest
  • Steven Jobs' familyImage Credit: Pinterest
Gulf News

Smartphones are so addictive they they rob students of concentration and therefore should not be allowed in class, a new study shows.

Researchers said that the use smartphones inside classrooms does not really boost students' learning abilities, as they never follow the lectures with materials they are allowed to find online.

They point to a growing body of evidence that smartphones in class may affect the students’ ability to concentrate, eventually hampering their academic performance.

The research shows that instead of using their phones to follow the lectures, students use them for other things — communicate with friends, watch YouTube videos or just browse around the web to follow their interests, said the study published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.

“While ever-smarter digital devices have made many aspects of our lives easier and more efficient, a growing body of evidence suggests that, by continuously distracting us, they are harming our ability to concentrate,” said Daniel le Roux from Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

'Blended learning'

The researchers pointed out that university lecturers are encouraged to develop blended learning initiatives and bring tech — videos, podcasts, Facebook pages, etc. — into the classroom more and more to offer students the enhanced experiences enabled by digital media.

However, an important effect of these initiatives has been to establish media use during university lectures as the norm, they warned.

Studies across the world show that students constantly use their phones when they are in class.

Mistaken thinking

“But here’s the kicker: if you think they are following the lecture slides or engaging in debates about the topic, you are mistaken,” Le Roux, who conducted the research with Douglas Parry of Stellenbosch University, said.

“In fact, this is hardly ever the case. When students use their phones during lectures they do it to communicate with friends, engage in social networks, watch YouTube videos or just browse around the web to follow their interests.”

Such behaviour is problematic for two reasons, say the researchers.

“The first is that when we engage in multitasking, our performance on the primary task suffers. Making sense of lecture content is very difficult when you switch attention to your phone every five minutes.

"A strong body of evidence supports this, showing that media use during lectures is associated with lower academic performance,” Le Roux said.

“The second reason is that it harms students’ ability to concentrate on any particular thing for an extended period of time.

"They become accustomed to switching to alternative streams of stimuli at increasingly short intervals. The moment the lecture fails to engage or becomes difficult to follow, the phones come out,” he added.

Tech integration 

Most schools in the UAE use communications technology in class — 78 per cent of UAE schools have built Information and Communications Technology (ICT) into their curricula and into the very processes by which students learn.

A recent survey carried out by YouGov interviewed 100 UAE-based educators and revealed the challenges and opportunities in adopting technology in classrooms.

The study, released by Microsoft in April 2017, shows that an overwhelming majority, at 99 per cent, reported that technology was used in their institution — 11 per cent for basic word-processing and email, 36 per cent for technology only for certain lessons that required access to the Internet, 52 per cent for ICT.

But while the intergration of communication technology in ICT courses is one thing, smartphone use in classrooms by students is another.

Bragging rights

The need for teenagers to get bragging rights in possessing a communication device is questionable, argued educators.

However, parents say that peer pressure means youngsters need to fit in with their groups by acquiring such smart and expensive devices.

Many parents admit that peer pressure is a large contributor to a teenager's need to have these devices. 

A random survey Gulf News did in 2010 of children between the ages of 12 to 15 years in both public and private schools in the UAE, showed that 17 out of 20 students had smartphones (77 per cent), and those students admit the electronic gear dominate their lives.


To show just how addiction to smartphones and iPads could impede concentration, New York University professor Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, explains why the late Apple founder, Steve Jobs, never let his kids use an iPad. 

In 2010, Steve Jobs was on the stage at an Apple event releasing the iPad and he described it as a "wonderful device" that brought educational tools within everone's fingertips — users can surf the web, watch videos and interact with other people. 

Jobs argued then that it was the best way to do all those things. But two years later when he was asked “Your kids must love the iPad?” 

Steve Jobs said: “Actually we don’t allow the iPad in the home. We think it’s too dangerous for them, in effect.” 

Steve Jobs' reason: He recognized just how addictive the iPad was as a vehicle for delivering things to people. 

It appeared to the revered Apple founder that once a person had the iPad, or when the person takes it anywhere, access to these platforms become habit forming and hard to resist — and "very addictive". 

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the world's richest men, told the British paper The Mirror that he banned his own kids from having mobile phones until they turned 14.

With inputs from IANS